Monday, May 4, 2009

First And Last

Watching the final game of the Portland/Houston series at the Toyota Center, I was struck by how similar that game was to Game 1. Not Game 1 of the series, but the first game of the season in Los Angeles against the Lakers. Maybe it was because I saw both games in person and had the same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach walking back to the locker room in Houston as I had wading through the Staples Center crowd back on the first day of the season. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we finished the same way we had started, despite the passing of six months, at least a hundred practices and 88 games. And considering the way both of those games turned out, it wasn’t a pleasant realization to come to.

There were similarities on the surface. For example, in both games the Trail Blazers scored 76 points and had relatively late change to the starting lineup. Both games were highly anticipated and nationally televised (though the Chicago/Boston triple overtime game made that only half true). But the feel of Game 6, the sense that something was askew from the tipoff, is what really reminded me of that first game against the Lakers.

But I’ve been known to misread situations. Just because the losses felt the same doesn’t necessarily mean they were products of the same problems. After all, this team had come a long way since that first Laker game, but as it turns out, I wasn’t the only person who saw the same signs.

“I saw some similarities,” said Nate McMillan of the first and final games of the season. “It wasn’t so much a lot of differences. I saw a team that could still get rattled, but had been able to respond after that. We’ve been able to do that all season long, but some of what I saw in (the first game of the season) I saw in our last game. Time just ran out for us to prove ourselves again.”

Which is a real shame. All season, the Trail Blazers had shown a resiliency that belied their inexperience, such as when they snapped the 12-game losing streak to the Spurs in the second game of the season after that first lost, and you wish they could have had an opportunity to prove themselves again.

“It’s still a team that’s trying to establish themselves,” said McMillan of the similarities. “There were all these expectations and all this talk about the team and what we’re going to do and what we’re capable of doing and the matchups.”

For McMillan, it wasn’t so much a team that had played the same way, but a team that was once again thrown into a difficult situation for the first time.

“Experience is huge and until you go through it,” said McMillan. “You don’t know how you’re going to handle it. So even though the first game was a different moment and a different challenge for them than it was the last game, it still was something they had never faced before. To face the Lakers, the Western Conference champions, your opening night on the road on national television and then to be in Houston, playing an elimination game, it’s a different challenge but it’s still very similar pressure where you have to step up and perform.”

Unfortunately, the Blazers were unable to “step up and perform” in either game to a level adequate enough to get a win, or even stay close, for that matter.

If you saw the same things, you might ask what was accomplished throughout the course of the ’08-’09 campaign? If Game 1 turns out the same as Game 88, can you really say you improved and grew as a team? The answer to that question, according to McMillan, is an unqualified “yes.”

“We did see growth,” said McMillan, “and we still see growth. The growth will continue throughout the summer when you think back on those moments and you think about how you felt Game 1 and you how you felt at the end of the season and what you need to do to change those feelings next season.

“The growth doesn’t stop just because we’re not playing. If we continue to see them grow, we’ll see them working on those things; making sure they have their game right, they’re taking care of their body, they’re working on their game, they’re back early ready to go. That’s the growth and maturity that you want to see.”


BRoyFTW said...

I think maybe starting Rudy was a bad idea, especially if they weren't going to let him shoot. I don't know what to think of game 6 and maybe I'm wrong about Rudy, but I liked Batum getting the start.

hg said...

Casey: hg here;

I could see the similarities also. Not that we lost both games by a large amount, but the confusion and anxiety of what is happening and what to do.

I remember in game 1 after pre-season, we thought we were a pretty good team and if we couldn't beat The Lakers at least we could compete with them.

In the final game after the long season and winning two games in the play-offs, we once again felt confident that we could go to Houston and if not win at least compete.

In both games we looked lost, and confused. Giving me the illusion that they felt they were good enough to beat Houston without bringing their A game.

I know the way I felt was far from the truth. But the last game like the the first game, I didn't know what the truth was. I know they are a great team. I know they wanted to win with every once of strength in their bodies. What I don't know is why;

I seen in several time throughout the season when they knew they were good enough to win but came out stinking up the joint. The first game and the last game were good examples of that. Why?


hg said...


After watching Houston beat LA last night another similarity may be that we underestimated just how good our opponents were in the first and last game.

After the first game, The L*kers went on a season tear showing everybody their greatness. Maybe after last nights win The Rockets will go on a tear that will show everybody their greatness. I can hope :).


millertime said...

who doesnt think we have improved from game 1. we were better in game2. this team is special very special and young. we just gained experiece that most teams take years to accomidate. we did it with two rookies starting & were co dividion champs. not bad if you ask me. we have an upside that is almost mystical.IF everybody is healthy the blazers will be a better team the start of next season then they were at the end of this season. Losing the way they did to the rockets just made the blazers hungry all offseason long. This will drive them to the next level. Like steroids in their developement. They will not plateau and keep getting better every season till their peak. which is not for quiet some time.

Anonymous said...

The trail blazers must find a new coach for the team.

Spanish_like_Rudy said...

As a longtime and loyal fan of the trailblazers, I love the team that we currently have! I feel that it is completely un bias of me to state that we currently have the best team in the NBA!Sure, we didnt get past the first round of the playoffs, but just wait until next year. The group of young men that form the team, have the want and the talent to become national champions. Right now we have a talented and young group of guys who want nothing more than to play ball! we need to keep who we have and what we have. We have a strong fan base, and a team that you can look up to. It all comes down to experience. If anyone knows more about the first round of the playoffs, its houston! This is nothing more than a valuable learning experience. Get ready for another exciting season from the team with the biggest drive and the most talent; The Portland Trailblazers

aneebaba said...

Yes, I think we did grow, so I have to agree with Coach M . . . the bitter taste that the last game left will be the fire under our bellies and hopefully, they'll make sure to not fall into the same problem next year or later on as well. It's the growing pains . .(sorry I know, cliche), but I think it will help them tons in the future, its something you have to go through and we are only going to get better. Hey we won 2 games, we'll find out weaknesses overcome them, get those 2 other wins we need next year and then face another challenge and maybe just maybe overcome that one as well, in the same year. I don't know much about this kind of thing, but what can I do, just thinking positive for my team. Another cliche to finish off: aim for the stars, you'll land on the tree-top (still good result) but aim for the tree-top, you'll land on the ground (not so great result). Peace . . .

Casey Holdahl said...

BRoyFTW: I kind of agree. I don't think the outcome would have been different either way. Then again, I fear change.

hg: I don't know the answer to that either. I think it's one of those things that you have to go through first before you can expect to have success.

millertime: I agree, but reading some of the thoughts after the end of the season, it seemed to me that some people thought this team just got lucky 54 times.

Randy: Disagree.

Spanish Like Rudy: That's the spirit!